Fundamental questions & answers


Will the terrorist attack in Quetta last week have profound consequences for state and society in Pakistan?

The 2014 attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School finally us woke up to the existential threat from the Pakistani Taliban. The distinction between “good and bad Taliban” was abandoned. Imran Khan admitted the error of his ways in defending the Taliban as good but “misguided Muslims”. Subsequently both the civil and military leadership of the country vowed to hunt them down without any ifs and buts via a National Action Plan against terrorism. In much the same manner, the Quetta attack has provoked Pakistanis high and low, khaki and mufti, to ask whether the same NAP is sufficient to uproot terrorism even if it is comprehensively applied and enforced by the civil-military leadership.

The army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has pointed the finger at “those who want to hurt CPEC ”. But the terrorist attacks in Balochistan originated long before CPEC was even conceived on the drawing boards of the Pakistan Planning Commission. So this explanation is just not convincing. Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister, hasn’t minced his words in targeting the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies RAW and NDS respectively for the attack. But he hasn’t stopped to ask or explain how and why such attacks are being planned and executed by India and Afghanistan. An ISPR statement is even more confusing. It claims that the terrorists have shifted their focus from Karachi and FATA to Balochistan because the army has been successful in uprooting them there. If this is indeed the case, we may well ask how the Taliban and the MQM who were accused of terrorizing these regions have suddenly started strategizing about CPEC when such issues never entered their political equations earlier.

No, it is not as simple as this. As Raza Rabbani, chairman of the Senate, remarked in the wake of the Quetta attack, “we need to ask and answer basic and fundamental questions about the way the civil-military bureaucratic state” has ruled Pakistan. Whatever does he mean by that? Why didn’t he go on to ask the fundamental questions and answer them? Why was he so annoyingly oblique?

Pakistan’s “national security state” is embroiled in antagonistic relations and proxy wars with neighbours India and Afghanistan whose blowback is spawning terrorism inside Pakistan. No National Action Plan based on internal factors can sufficiently cope with this blowback because it is sponsored by state and non-state actors outside Pakistan.

Pakistan’s national security establishment first tried to wage war with India in 1948 and 1965 in order to resolve the unfinished business of partition that revolved around the fate of Kashmir. Failing that, it manufactured non-state Islamic-jihadi actors inside Pakistan and then launched them against India in Kashmir in the 1990s and 2000s. It is payback time for India now. Its proxies are disgruntled Mohajir and Baloch leaders in exile.

Pakistan’s national security establishment also developed the doctrine of “strategic depth” against India by trying to make Afghanistan a client state. It manufactured Islamic Jihadis against the USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s and launched them with the help of the CIA. But after these jihadis ousted the USSR from Afghanistan and fell into internecine warfare, the Pakistani national security establishment launched the Pakhtun Taliban from the border areas to seize Kabul in 1997 with nary a thought about the historic ethnic balance of power between Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Pakhtuns in the nascent Afghan state. Following 9/11 and the US attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan, the same national security establishment provided safe havens in FATA and Balochistan for the fleeing Taliban. In time this became a sore point in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan and the United States because the Afghan Taliban were able to regroup and launch attacks on the US backed Kabul regime and allied NATO forces from their sanctuaries in Pakistan. In retaliation, the US-Afghan forces have allowed the Pakistani Taliban and Baloch on the run from Operation Zarb-e-Azb to hide in Afghanistan and launch terrorist attacks across the border in Pakistan.

The “fundamental” questions that Raza Rabbani and others are alluding to are these: (1) Why is Pakistan in conflict with India, Afghanistan and the US? (2) How are the consequences of such policies hurting Pakistan? (3) Who is fundamentally responsible for such disastrous policies?

Pakistan’s relations with India will not improve until the domestic jihadi groups are dismembered so that Mumbai and Pathankot never happen again. Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will not improve until the Afghan Taliban are disrupted and defeated or compelled to sue for peace. And until Pakistan is at peace with its neighbours, it will not be at peace with itself. It is also clear that the power to take such fundamental decisions vests exclusively with the military establishment. It’s time for the military to consult the civilian stakeholders of the country and change the national security paradigm that has brought so much strife and conflict to Pakistan.